Live From Kwala

NTC Project Director Marika Mura will be in Kwala through September, 2011. Keep up with life in Kwala through her monthly blog!

September 5, 2011: Contribuited by Luca Scarpa

My first month in Kwala, Tanzania, is almost gone and still, I feel like I’ve arrived yesterday. And actually it isn’t. Compared with the first days I can set the fire in no time, I’m starting to understand some few words in Swahili, and sometimes the main meaning of the speech; more few time than some, to be honest. However, I am still not sure about which word I should use for say “yes” or “no” but I’m able to buy things at the “market”. There isn’t a real market here in Kwala, but the main street, the only one that can be called “street”, has a lot of people that sell their own things and something more, that’s the market.
Let’s try to summarize briefly what’s going on around here, since the day that I came, till now. The trip has been a bit long, but good: after years of travelling with ryanair, flying with a normal company, even with the economy class sounds great. @:-) At the arrival I had my visa, in the easier way that I know for getting a visa (I gave to the border guy my passport and 50$ and 20 minutes later everything was done) and Marika an Luca were already outside waiting for me. A hot a humid dawn was just giving me its “welcome”. Just few words about Dar, because I’m already not that brief, and I’m not sure if somebody who understand English is really going to read this.
It’s a beautiful, poor, huge and chaotic city. It has something incredibly charming, even if it’s dirty, it “stinks” of different smells, and is objectively ugly, it has something special, that I can’t define which make you feel amused, and “peaceful”. When I get in a crowdy bus in Italy I start feeling uncomfortable after a blink, the stink, people shouting and pushing and everybody being nervous. In Dar it is almost impossible to get inside a bus without having somebody else’s ass pressing in your face, if you has been lucky enough to find a seat, of somebody body squeezing you in somebody else, if you are standing; but you don’t feel uncomfortable, you don’t smell any bad scent, everybody usually stay in silence or speak with low voice, everybody is kind of respectful with the other. I really like those buses, because you feel really bad with your body and the weirdest position for fitting 50 people in a bus which should travel with 20 passengers, but you feel good “with your soul”, it’s the peace, inside the chaos. A daladala (the bus) is the best picture that I can give you of Dar: and overcrowded place, where nothing seems to work, but everything go on peacefully anyway.
And now stop speaking about Dar, and let’s go to Kwala. A big, or at least bigger than I had imagined, village in the middle of nowhere. Nobody has a car in the village (I have seen 3 cars in 4 weeks), and you get here with a pikipike, a motorbike, where you usually ride in 3, luggage included. Sometimes you see an entire family on that bike: four, five people on a 125cc in “roads” of sand and dust; amazing!
The life here is completely different from DES. Everything is quiet and slow. If you wanna buy something in the, so called, shop, you need not to be in hurry. They greet you with a lot of greetings, hello, how are you, how is your morning, how is your job, any problem?, and they greet all the people that they see, in this funny and total uninterested way, it’s just a protocol for starting a conversation, they ask you all this questions one after the other, after the second one I start answering things that I don’t know if they fit with the answer, but they don’t care anyway. After the greetings you can ask what you need, and after a while they give you what you need, they take their time for count the bill and finally you can go. At least 15 minutes for a tank of water and 6 potatoes. It’s how things work here. No hurry, no worries, there is nothing but lot of time, that need to be spent somehow.
Ah, I just realize that maybe you are wondering why am I here. I came as a volunteer for doing I didn’t know exactly what, help in general. I’m doing what I came for,  In the first days I worked as a mason (I’m not sure that this word really exist), for building a new house for NTC and its volunteers and teachers, then as soon as the headmaster of the school arrived I started teaching (computer classes), and with some money collected by friends now we are also making and decorating small chairs for the kinder garden. And of course I’m doing my best for helping my outstanding project director in every way I can. But I see that I haven’t been brief at all, and now I fed up with this writing and I guess you are fed up of reading. I’ll maybe  write again one day or another, and maybe I’ll write down something about my new and temporary life here. See you!!!

September 1, 2011: Contributed by Marika Mura

Backyard of the house I can hear some taarab music coming from the main street of the village. Today is EID, the end of Ramadam, one more occasion to have music and dances (and an occasion for me to relax a bit). It is already the end of August, and I am leaving in little more than two weeks, still cannot believe it. Time goes so fast, I am eager to finish everything I started and I was supposed to do. I wish I could stop the time a little bit. Even if things go tough sometimes I am happy to be here and every new day is a good day to accomplish something new. So many things happened during these two months, I try to tell you about them all.

computer classWell, first of all, the school started again in July and I started teaching again full time, it was so nice to see my students again. Now we even started to prepare a song for Form IV graduation (the 10th September) in the afternoons. The song we chose is One8 “Hands across the world”. I think we will also do waka waka, Shakira. It is good fun and I love spending time with them outside the normal school routine. Academically speaking, despite the challenges, they try their best. Sadly, some of them did not come back after the first term, and decided to drop school. I spoke with some of them as I had the chance to visit their homes. For some of them the problem was money to pay for food. It is always hard when situations like this happen. Being their teacher, and having known them for a year, it is sad to accept that they drop school because of money. I managed to help two of them with some money I got donated from Italy, while we also decided to include two more girls that were experiencing the same challenges in the NTC scholarship programme. I wish we could help all of them, but unfortunately that is a utopia more than an ambition. Form IV Mock Examinations already started, I hope there will be some improvement since last results. They requested me for some questions and answers books to practice, and I bought some copies for all subjects from our partner Mkuki na Nyota, where we purchase all the books. Unfortunately the Form IV this year seem to be lacking a good foundation in most subject, probably due at the lack of science teachers when they were in Form I and II.

houseSecond, we are in the process of building a house for NTC, and to do this we started a partnership with the Dar Es Salaam College of Engineering Technology. The aim is to build a house using innovative strategies, such as the interlocking bricks, and training local fundito use them. This house will be an example for the community, trying to use sustainable energies, and cheaper and more efficient ways of building. It is an ambitious and very interesting project, of which we are only at the first phase, the building. There will be a farming and irrigation phase later, and a solar panel energy system building too. Andreas, a MIT graduate came at the end of July to help with the facility, and especially to work on the building of a water tank for the house and micro irrigation system. He is a hard working guy and has been such an incredible help, and helped me a lot in dealing with all the issues and problems arising with the local fundi and lack of resources. With him, the work continued smoothly and without problems, thank you so much Andreas!

I know nothing about how to build a house, I really did not know where to start from! Well, I helped in clearing the land and then left the guys (Andreas, Luca cousin and Luca the other volunteer from Italy, one local fundi with two helpers and two students from the College of Engineering Technology of DES) to do all the hard job which I was clearly not fit to do… I went back to the position of lady-boss which I think is quite funny to look at. Me trying to be strict and telling off the fundi when he is being lazy… I laugh at myself thinking about it.

new chairsThe Kinder Garten is finally finished, and we have started building small chairs for the kids. We plan to start painting the walls next week. Luca has arrived at the start of this month and has since then been busy with helping with the building of NTC house, computer lessons at Secondary, and now chairs for the kinder garten. He is very ambitious and it is very nice to have him around, he is a big help, and Kwala is really lucky to have him as he will in a way make sure the projects will continue after I leave. He is here until the 15thOctober.

In the evenings I am teaching Standard 5 English in the Primary school, the class taught by Alex. After that there is usually a reading/drawing session with younger kids. It is amazing to see how the children are so much interested into reading, books, and coloured pencils.

lions donated desks!Another project I am quite proud about is the purchasing of 20 desks for Mahundi Primary School. An Italian organization called “Lions” sponsored this project. The fundi has done a great job and I am very happy. I believe in the future maybe NTC could work on other projects with this organization.

The “Primary school teaching English” workshop will happen after Standard 7 examination, so after the 12th September. In the meanwhile I am visiting some of the surrounding schools. I have already been in 4 of them, but I want to come back and stay for a while, bring some coloured pencils, teach a bit of English, take some good pictures and talk to the teachers. We are looking into building a library in one of those schools but we want to establish a relationship with the teachers and the school in general before doing so.

It is 2:38 in the morning and I am writing again from where I left. I had to stop to go to fetch water and then go for a lovely lunch with Luca and Luca at Mr Msangi’s house. I had a look at the building, the foundations have been finished, but still there is a lot to do.

Then we headed back home and were amazed at discovering an elegant and crowded Kwala, with children wearing their best clothes and going to see the football match between Dolphins and boda-boda. We joined the crowd. Immediately we were offered a seat next to the politicians and important people of the village, from which a fancy Mama Maggie wearing a beautiful white hat English style. During the match my mind was thinking far and appreciating how even in such a small and rural place people still make an effort, dress up and find time to enjoy themselves. Back home we cooked and worked on the chairs building. We started to paint them! If anything at least they look very artistic, and we came up with so many painting ideas!

Music is still up in the air, I can hear it clearly from my backyard while I am writing and I think it will go on until morning. I wish in a way I could join them. I love this rhythm. I love to dance. It makes me feel light and high as a cloud. No problems in Kwala, I look at the stars and think that there is nothing I have to worry about. Now I have to leave you, I will enjoy the music for a little bit more and then to sleep, tomorrow will be another day!

July, 9th, 2011: Contributed by Marika Mura

Here I finally am again, writing in the blog after ages…. Sorry about that. April has been a busy month, after Alex’s health problems and his return to USA. I have been in Italy for two months, and I just came back after two months of holiday, beach and fun. It is always hard to leave when you spend some time at home. But I knew everything would have felt right once back. And it was like that. As soon as I arrived in Dar Es Salaam I remembered while I am here. What is that makes me stay here is still a mystery, that many people in Italy called “mal d’Africa” (funny, as if it was a disease). I am happy to be back. People still remember me, and kids still shout my name in the street and ask for books. I look forward to start the reading with the kids in the village, my English lessons at secondary and feel part of the village community.

My cousin Luca came with me too this time, feeling touched by my stories. He wants to help as much as he can, and the small kids in the village already love him, fascinated by his beard. It feels good I can share my experience with him.

There is an interesting project sponsored by NTC and decided for by the Kwala Committee Meeting. It is about the building of a structure for the kinder garter. Around 30 kids below 3 years old are looked after during the day by two “mama” under a tree, behind Mr Msemakweli’s (the first citizen of the village) office. We thought a proper structure would have been very helpful to host this group of smiling active kids. The works should start this week, but with Tanzanian time this is always an incognita. I hope works will proceed well, as next month a volunteer from Italy (called Luca too) will come to decorate it and build small chairs and toys for the kids.

The latest completed project was the water tank in KWASS. It is finally finished and working, and, even if we started collecting the rain considerably late, the school managed to go for two months without paying for water. This is a great news, as all the girls in the dormitory used that water and did not have to pay. Next year it will be even better, since we aim to fill the whole tank and collect in this way 90,000 litres of water.

Monday the school will start again, I am looking forward to see my students again. I wonder how they did in their terminal examination! I will see their results and meet the girls sponsored by the NTC sponsorship programme. KWASS is one of the worst performing school in the country. Me, the teachers, and Mr Kitinya (the headmaster) talked a lot about the reasons behind this. We think it may depend on poor supervision, even if there are enough teachers now (even though there is still a problem of English, biology and chemistry teachers). And there are enough books in the library. The failure in the science subjects is often justified with the lack of a science laboratory, which I think may be one of the future NTC projects for the school. I think the harsh environment is still one of the reasons for low teachers and students motivation. And I hope this can be changed by starting again the computer lessons, and giving the students some extra curriculum activities to think about.

There will also be a Kwala Commitee meeting, and I will be busy with “discovering” other schools in surrounding villages. It will be great to see other small reality and other schools’ environments. I think we should expand our action. It is not only about giving the kids books, or the school money, but is about creating partnerships, expand their horizon, help the teacher and the students to feel motivated and provide a chance to give them opportunities. I believe together we can do a lot, and we already did a lot for this small community, so why not trying with others? I feel extremely positive, and I am sure this will be a success. Our dear Baba Msangi also has in mind a seminar for the primary school teachers, in order to help them to teach English effectively since the early ages of the kids. This will give me the chance to meet new teachers from the surrounding areas and start new relationships!

I have many things in mind, and the intention to do my best. I feel like these will be my last few months, and I want to give the most before I am leaving, with the hope to still feel part of this small reality and come back every now and then feeling fully involved in the projects. The reasons why I came here, and why it feels like home are not completely clear to me, I blame it on the kids’ smiles and the positivity of the people around me. I guess many people leave to far places in search of themselves, to discover another world, different cultures and values. What has changed about me in a year is that I understood that happiness does not reside necessarily in the place where you stay or where you live, but in the people you have around, their positivity, what we give each other as human beings. There is no need to run away, everything we want is always around us, we only need to see it with different eyes!

Click here to visit posting from August 2010 – March 2011

Click here to visit posting from our first Project Director, Lisa Walker